A maze of cheap street eats
Kensington Market is a neighbourhood found between College Street, Dundas Street West, Spadina Avenue and Bathurst Street filled with small shops, eclectic restaurants and historic homes. The block has recently experienced a resurgence as new restaurants flood its narrow crowded streets. Even Wal-Mart wants to set up shop proving there's the required critical mass. Having not visited for a few years, my friend and I decided to go for a stroll and see what’s changed. Along the way, we stopped for a couple of quick bites.
Location: Seven Lives Tacos Y Mariscos
Address: 69 Kensington Avenue
Luckily, we visited early enough on Sunday that there was no line in this small restaurant. After placing an order for the camarones a la diabla (spicy shrimp taco) ($5), we settled down onto a tiny table with another couple to wait for our order. Seating is limited and there’s only enough for approximately a dozen people, so some individuals were taking their orders to go.
After about ten minutes my taco was ready and well worth the wait. Snuggled between two soft tortillas were six large shrimps that were piping hot and had a smoky heat from the chipotle sauce. Topped with gooey cheese and sautéed onion and peppers, there was such an abundance of toppings that I had to eat a couple of the shrimps before I could actually pick up the thing. It was definitely one of the better tacos I’ve had in Toronto.
Seven Lives has a small menu made up of nine types of tacos, a ceviche and fries. Sitting on the counter are three homemade salsas (mild salsa verde, medium salsa negra and a hot habanero) allowing you to customize the level of spiciness you want on your tacos. I added some of the salsa negra onto my spicy shrimp tacos and it added a nice coolness against the hot shrimp. My friend topped her baha fish taco with the hot habanero and noted there was quite more spice with that.
Location: The Grilled Cheese
Address: 66 Nassau Street
Located off a quieter street in Kensington, the Grilled Cheese is hard to miss with its huge sign and out of place log cabin exterior. Their menu consists of 12 different combinations, but they also offer add-ons such bacon, ham, eggs, etc. to allow you to customize sandwiches to your taste. Even the most significant sandwich, the Beast, will only set you back $10.
Alas, I’m not a grilled cheese fan – I know this may be a shock as most people swoon over this gooey buttery carb. Nonetheless, I went with my friend who ordered the classic grilled cheese ($5) and snuck a bite to see what the hype was about.
There was a generous portion of cheddar cheese oozing out between two thick pieces of buttery toasted white bread, served with a handful of Ruffles potato chips and a dill pickle. I’ll admit it was good but still I wouldn’t want one to myself. Somehow, I think it has something to do with the toppings to bread ratio – there was simply too much bread. My ideal sandwich is tons of toppings between two thin crispy slices of bread (preferably something with a little flavour like sourdough) and the ratio of toppings to bread is 50/50. With the variety of ingredients being offered for the sandwiches, I was surprised the Grilled Cheese didn’t offer customer a choice of bread as well.
Additionally, we went at the wrong time where they were cutting and cooking onions. Unfortunately, the open kitchen had poor ventilation so the entire restaurant quickly filled with the pungent smell and left our eyes stinging. My friend had to eat quickly, through tears, so that we could get out of there.
Compared to other Kensington Market establishments their seating area was much larger so it could actually fit a fair number of patrons. So, it’s a good place to head to if you want to sit down and relax after some walking.
A small suggestion to the Grilled Cheese management - consider stocking all your tables with all the condiments, or at the very least ensure they all have ketchup. It was entertaining to see people sit down and then try to find a bottle of ketchup which was inevitably taken by a table prior to them. Really, ketchup is so inexpensive that you can afford to have multiple bottles of it.
No marks have been given to the restaurants above as we really didn't try enough items to allow for a proper grading. But, they were both tasty and well worth a try for the cheap eats.
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